Supreme Court

Republicans worry about political cost of Kavanaugh, whether he’s confirmed or not

Republicans are moving quickly to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court because if they don’t, they worry that disappointed GOP voters will stay home on election day after watching the party that controls the White House and Congress fail to accomplish one of its most important tasks.

An inability to fill the vacancy — followed by last year’s humiliating failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a promise that drove many of their 2016 campaigns — could hurt Republicans in the midterms when they are already bracing for losses in the House and possibly the Senate.

“If Republicans bail out on this good man because of the smears and character assassination...we deserve our fate,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said.

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Republicans, conservatives and moderates alike, voted for Donald Trump in part because they knew a president of their own party — even one as unpredictable as this one — would have the chance to shift the Supreme Court to the right for decades to come.

“If GOP caves to this smear campaign base support will crumble,” tweeted Phil Kerpen, president of the conservative organization American Commitment. “If they hang strong they will be rewarded. Winners win.”

The Supreme Court term begins Monday and it’s already likely they will open with an empty seat after Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, which triggered this nomination fight. If the Senate doesn’t confirm Kavanaugh, lawmakers say it’s unlikely Trump’s next nominee could be in place by the election.

“If the Republicans do not get this vote taken and have Kavanaugh confirmed, you can kiss the midterms goodbye,” conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said this week. “You can kiss goodbye holding the House and you can kiss goodbye holding the Senate.” Trump tweeted Limbaugh’s remarks.

Many Democrats have suggested that Republicans could lose suburban female voters if the Senate confirms Kavanaugh despite the sexual assault allegations hanging over him. A new poll shows Kavanaugh’s net support among Republican women dropped 18 points while Trump’s net support among Republican women dropped 19 points.

Trump acknowledged in his recent Las Vegas rally that the Supreme Court played a major role in his win. “You know, one of the reasons I was elected was because you believed that I was going to pick great Supreme Court justices,” he said.

In 2016, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt listed three potential Supreme Court picks as three of six reasons he planned to vote for Trump despite his reservations. “The first three are the existing and probable two additional Supreme Court nominations he will get to make,” he wrote.

In his first two years in office, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed to the Supreme Court, and nominated the largest number of federal judges than any recent president as he looks to install conservatives on courts across the U.S.

“It is the primary issue that actually united Republicans around him,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political consultant based in Sacramento, Calif.

This week, some Republicans did not want to talk about the political consequences of Kavanaugh’s nomination while some House members hoped the Senate actions would not affect them.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers of Ohio suggested he wasn’t urging candidates to talk about Kavanaugh over the next several weeks, but pointed out this was playing out in the other chamber. “Obviously, that’s in the Senate,” Stivers said.

“It’s in everybody’s best interest to get this settled as soon as possible for all candidates,” Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Missouri said.

Kellen Browning, Lesley Clark, Emma Dumain, Bryan Lowry, Kate Irby and Lindsay Wise contributed.

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01
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